Is Passed a Term of the Past?

May 23, 2018

TV headlines flashed up on the screen “Dr David Goodall at the age of 104 has passed!”

“Oh”, I thought to myself, “he has chosen to pass, pass what?”  Okay we all knew he was keen to die on his own terms. However in his earlier interviews I didn’t hear him say he was ready to ‘pass’ and I wonder if ‘passed’ was a term he would have chosen, I think not.

Possibly he may have accepted ‘passed away’, a softer approach and one I have used myself given the sensitivity of a person’s circumstances at the time, but ‘passed’?  We seem to be dropping the ‘away. It sounds like he had passed to another universe or maybe he was in transit, or simply just passed wind. Why can’t we just say “he died” or is the reality of death too ugly a word to use and best to avoid?

I am not about to jump on the universal debating band wagon on euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. It’s an eternal subjective topic that divides countries, states, cities and families.  My grievance is how Australians are trending towards sugar-coated American terminology, specifically on how we reference death and potentially our children being affected.

If we say ‘someone has passed’ rather than ‘someone has died’ does this mean we say “one day we will pass”‘ rather than “one day we will die”?  To further complicate the matter when we use the adjective to describe a noun, do we say “that is a dead mouse” or “that is a passed mouse”?

Newspapers, television and in conversation people are increasingly scared to use the word ‘died’, the past tense of the verb ‘die’. They are choosing to replace it with the verb “passed” the past tense of “pass”.

It doesn’t sound correct and maybe Dr Goodall was on the right track when he suggested not to go off track to avoid the inevitable topic, dying. I am pretty sure he was including terminology in his comment.

He made a valid statement, “people are afraid of death and won’t talk about it”. When someone dear dies, we are thrown into a shattered world of unprepared emotional chaos. The best of us think we will logically cope when it happens, but it doesn’t always work this way.   

I wonder, and am somewhat concerned how children deal with this ambiguous terminology as they develop. Will it be another puzzle for them to silently solve? Is it another reality that adults postpone or softened to make it sound as if everything will be alright?  Will it be another contributor to the every growing anxiety issues amongst young people?

“Death is an aspect of life that is not only inevitable but also painful, especially for children”, remarked  James A. Graham Ph.Da professor of Developmental Psychology, in his article on ‘How Do Children Comprehend Death’. “A child’s grief after a loss and coming to understand death is a process that consists of psychological tasks that children progress through and eventually overcome”.

With young children it is important to keep death in context given their age, experience, developmental level and generally how well-adjusted they are. It is difficult for under five-year olds to understand that death is final and inevitable, for any living thing. Even after five they continue to struggle with the finality concept and think it applies to older people.

Over time it is critical they come to understand that someone is not physically returning and it cannot be fixed. It is a difficult task and a matter of finding the appropriate time. When a close family member or animal dies, a young child may be satisfied with a simple statement “‘they died” unless they seek more answers.  

From my observations most children appear to cope better with the concept that their special person is protecting them from above or heaven, until they are emotionally mature to deal with the facts. This may sound like another sugar-coated concept, however it is our responsibility to consider individual circumstances and a child’s coping mechanism. A child’s comprehension of death depends on experience and developmental level and we don’t need to mislead them nor scare them.  

As they grow into adulthood young people tend to fill in the gaps with their own fantasies until their level of maturity is reached to grasp a level of understanding.

It will be interesting to see if this passing trend continues within our Australian community or simply passes away. In the meanwhile I will struggle with passing ‘until death do us part/pass’.

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